Products > Brick

RIBA Core Curriculum
- Design, construction and technology

Knowledge level
- General Awareness

Almost everyone knows that brick is one of mankind’s oldest and most durable building materials. Maybe that is the reason why it is sometimes overlooked in ‘modern’ architecture, despite its countless creative design possibilities.

In this section
- Sustainability
- Brick durability and tolerances
- How different colours and textures are created
- Bond patterns and examples of how these are used

Navigate through each step of the CPD using the left and right arrows to review the content. At the end of each section are some questions, these are required if you wish to obtain a certificate upon completing the course.                     


Why is brick sustainable?


Bricks are a versatile and durable building material with excellent life cycle performance, energy efficiency, high thermal mass and responsible manufacturing.

Brick and brick buildings are sustainable because they:

  • Are highly durable
  • Offer long term life performance
  • Are low maintenance
  • Are energy efficient
  • Provide healthy and comfortable environments
  • Are recyclable

The BRE’s latest Green Guide to specification has assigned A+ accreditation to every external wall it rated containing brick.

Management systems help manufacturers to continually improve upon their performance.

With a lifespan of 500 years plus, any embodied energy within the brick from the manufacturing process is written off over a very long period, enabling brick to be a very sustainable product.

  • Clay bricks have received an A+ rating in BRE’s Green Guide
  • ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Assesses compliance with environmental legislation, and aspects and impacts such as atmospheric emissions, water use, and waste management
  • BES 6001 Responsible Sourcing Standard has a focus on individual products and materials, including organisational and supply chain management


  • Clay masonry has a service life of +150 years, easily outperforming most other materials
  • Clay bricks retain their shape and colour, even after long exposure to the elements
  • Bricks are fired at over 1000 degrees Celsius during manufacture, they are completely incombustible and are able to retain their mechanical strength during fires
  • The high stability and density of clay masonry enables it to withstand water pressure very well making it very flood resistant


The BDA’s declaration of 500 years of durability and the service life of 150 years underlines the durability and legacy that you will be creating.

Brick offers a sense of stability, it is much more robust than many man-made materials and won’t rot, rust, erode or decay in ever changing weather patterns.

Brick is a solid, permanent and low maintenance material that provides lasting beauty and appreciating value – brick offers true longevity.


From the moment the bricks are pressed into the mould, at the point at which they are dried and just before entering the kiln for their 3-5 day firing process they are oversized. Billions of bricks are manufactured each year and there are only ever a handful of sizing complaints….very impressive considering the simple beginnings of each brick.
Thinking about size tolerances when specifying a specific brick can be very important in terms of setting out or even the bond pattern you may wish to use so again please contact us for further guidance.
There is a PAS 70 test that would be conducted on site should you have a query over sizing, to check the range and tolerance of declared sizes against the European Standard. Given the billions of bricks that are sold each year, this is still a fairly rare test to carry out and none of the major brick manufacturers tend to suffer with sizing as a major issue.


  • Clay is a natural material which is quarried, crushed, shaped and fired.
  • The European Standard for clay masonry units BS EN 771-1 requires a manufacturer to declare a particular size category for each product based on individual brick measurements.
  • Different categories take into account the wide range of brick types and different manufacturing methods.
  • Tighter tolerances can often be achieved for more regular extruded or wirecut products than with handmade and stock bricks.

Colour and Texture

The huge range of brick colours and textures available allow countless possible design options.

Achieving Different Colours

Different raw materials

Additives – sands, pigments etc.

Kiln setting and firing cycles

Special processes e.g. engobes, glazing

Achieving Different Colours

Different colours can be created in a number of ways using different raw materials, manufacturing techniques and processes.

Engobed surface treatment

Engobes are liquid colourings consisting mainly of clay minerals.  The engobe is applied to the dried unfired bricks. During firing the engobe coating is sintered into the surface of the brick creating special colour effects.

Glazed surface treatment

A glassy solution is applied to the dried unburnt bricks. During the firing process, this applied surface coating fuses with the tile, forming a real glass coating. Unlike engobes, glazes are impervious to water.

Colour Options

Left to right: Plain, Multi and Blend

Clay bricks are a natural product therefore colours may differ slightly from one production run to another.

The mixing of bricks from packs will provide a good balance of colour, particularly with ‘multi’ coloured products, and help to prevent ‘colour banding’ within elevations of finished brickwork. Unless advised otherwise, we would suggest mixing from a minimum of 3 packs.

Alternative Colours

West Wales General Hospital Mortuary, Carmarthen
Nightingale Associates

The Platinum White facing brick was chosen to help create a building that not only ties into the tonal range of the surrounding buildings, but more importantly create a building that provides a calming, therapeutic backdrop that does not distract and cause tensions to those visiting.
The use of a white brick gives a delicate contrast of light and shade throughout the day and also gives the building a sculptural quality. It also gives a sense of solidity, and in turn, protection from the external environment.
Subtlety is created by altering the bond used; for example, a stack bond is created between window openings and a stretcher bond is used for the majority of the walls which gives depth to the elevations.


The Willows Primary and Special School, Wolverhampton

The facade uses a mix of different brick colours: Castle Cream Blended Sovereign (three colours) and Original Blue Sovereign Stock (one laid every four horizontal and two vertical bricks). These various colours were chosen for a random laying pattern, with 50% turned, so that the backs faced out displaying imprints from the firing process.

Colour Matching

Savoy Hotel, London
Reardon Smith Architects

This multi-million pound renovation project began in 2008 and was completed in 2010. Strict planning restrictions on the Grade II-listed building meant that all materials had to match the existing and adjoining buildings, with original building practices replicated throughout.  

The brick throughout the restoration of the building varied both in glaze and base colour dependant on the area of the building and its original construction. There are over 20 varying colour shades of glazed bricks within the restoration of the hotel.

The original brick used in the hotel construction was also a specialist size which needed to be replicated. The monitoring of production tolerances of brick sizes was carefully regulated to ensure the continuity of brick coursing between existing and new

Creating Pattern

Hazardous Materials Warehouse, Humboldt University, Berlin
Benedict Tonon

Using differing colours and textures of bricks can result in some striking facades, be mindful though that different brick types have different tolerances and if blending imported bricks with UK bricks there may even be differing sizes to take into consideration. Work with the manufacturer closely to aid the selection of your bricks and the creation of your design.

Textures - Traditional Brick Types

Flat Stock

Creased Stock




The Oaks, Sheffield
C. Gothard Associates

The use of tumbled bricks helped accentuate the contrast between modern and traditional and the multi-toned appearance helped create an array of colours which provides additional visual interest, particularly on the gables of the building.


Bricks are literally tumbled and rolled together using a machine not dissimilar to an enormous tumble dryer. The edges are softened and the appearance is that of a reclaimed brick.

Textures - Contemporary Brick Types

Smooth Wirecut

Sanded Wirecut







Distinctive Textures

Darwin Hall, Lichfield
Bryant Priest Newman

The materials used needed to reflect the look and feel of the surrounding estate, while also echoing the city’s historic architectural pedigree.

Around 20,000 of these striking, highly tactile bricks have been used in the final building.

Combining Textures

Vitens Office Building, Arnhem
Group A, Rotterdam

The brickwork of the Vitens project in Arnhem consists of two interwoven surfaces.

The architect wanted to make the colour difference more subtle by using different textures. The weave incorporates two types of brick, engobed, shiny black bricks and far more matt ‘handformatic’ bricks.

In this type of brickwork and brick combination it is important to devote extra attention to the work size.

The bricks with engobe play with the light in such a way that their surfaces appear almost white when reflecting at a certain angle. The matt bricks seem to absorb the light, which makes them a stable colour factor. It is precisely the variation in the bricks that makes a stroll around the building a true spectacle.

Bond Patterns

Bond Patterns can have a dramatic effect on the final appearance of a building.
Let’s now take a closer look at some bonding patterns…

Decorative Brickwork

From the early 16th century onwards the Flemish influence was not only significant for the promotion of the use of brick for structural reasons, but also encouraged its use for its decorative possibilities.
Traditional Flemish brick designs were imported from the continent. The use of brick for decorative effects continued to grow in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was a comparatively cheap way of embellishing buildings through the creation of patterns using different coloured bricks and bond patterns.

Common Bond Patterns


Common Bond Patterns

Stretcher Bond
Cavity walls originated in late 19th century and insulation was introduced into the building envelope in the 1970’s. Because the outer leaf is now only half a brick thick, stretcher bond has become the most common bond in use. (least number of bricks per m²).

Header Bond
Popular during the 18th century Header bond often employed contrasting brick colours to give a decorative effect. This bond produces a fine, tight wall, but uses so many bricks that it is usually reserved for very high-quality buildings. It’s also used for curved brickwork, as the short faces are easier to build into undulating shapes.

Common Bond Patterns

Flemish Bond
From the beginning of the 18th century, the Flemish bond superseded English bond. This style has stretchers and headers alternating within each course. Flemish bonds can be replicated in the half-brick outer leaf of a cavity wall by using whole bricks as stretchers, while the headers are created by half bricks called bats or snap-headers.

English Bond
This is the oldest pattern, and was commonly used until the end of the 17th century. A course of stretchers alternates with a course of headers. English Bond is considered stronger than Flemish bond, so continues to be used for civil engineering projects, such as bridges, viaducts and embankments.

Common Bond Patterns

Garden Wall Bonds
Laying stretchers uses up fewer bricks than laying headers however, it is also less strong hence its use in traditional walled gardens and other modest structures.

Stack Bond
In stack bond the bricks do not overlap and therefore the arrangement is inherently weak. To compensate for the lack of bonding, typically bed-joint reinforcement is built into every third bed-joint.

Bond Patterns

Bond patterns create impression of strength/longevity, connection with historical precedent and aesthetic appeal.

Pictured Left: Flemish Garden Wall Bond

Pictured Right: Three Quarter Bond

Bond Patterns

Modern methods of construction allow for a creative use of bond patterns as facing brickwork is no longer a structural element.

The external envelope is now usually only a facing which pretends to be a solid load bearing wall. This provides an opportunity to be creative and playful with brickwork design while at the same time maintaining the links to tradition, longevity and robustness for which brickwork has always been known.

Pictured Left: Stack Bond
Pictured Right: Wild Bond

Expansion Joints

In general, reversible movements are caused by temperature changes. Irreversible expansion (caused by adsorption of water molecules by the fired clay brick) can be larger and continues, albeit at a reducing rate, for a period of years.

As a general rule in buildings, brickwork expansion joints should be provided every 10-12m maximum. This dimension reduces to 6m in boundary walls or brick faced parapets. In addition, movement joints should be provided where brickwork returns are less than 675mm, where there is a change in height or a change in surface finish.

Expansion Joints


Expansion Joints

The spacing and thickness of movement joints is related to the detailed design, length and height of the brickwork, together with any requirements for structural restraint. We would suggest that the Structural Engineer for the project reviews movement joint positions prior to construction.

An indication for normal storey height walls is that the joint width (in mm) should be at least equal to the joint spacing (in m) plus an allowance of typically 30% to allow for the compressibility of the filler and the performance of appropriate sealants – Thus movement joints at 10m centres will need to be approximately 13mm wide.

When brickwork is to be used to clad a reinforced concrete or timber frame, the design should make particular allowance for differential movement.

Expansion Joints

  • Clay bricks, like all materials, expand and contract as temperature rises and falls
  • Thermal expansion of the brick will occur due to the range of temperatures experienced, the orientation of walls and the colour of the brick
  • A greater influence on the overall movement of clay bricks is the long term effect of moisture
  • The location and size of movement joints must take into account the characteristics of the product, the design and dimensions of brickwork panels, and their relationship in plan form
  • As a general rule in buildings, brickwork expansion joints should be provided every 10-12m maximum

Creative use of Bond Patterns

House 01, Donnybrook, Dublin
TAKA Architects

Flemish bond with projecting headers creates visual interest on the façade.

Alludes to the tradition of solid brickwork construction.

Using Bond to create pattern and texture

Primary Substation for 2012 Olympic Park
NORD Architecture

Use of bond pattern and recessed/projecting bricks to add interest to an otherwise flat façade.

Using Bond to create pattern and texture

Carmelite Monastery, Liverpool

Awarded the Architect’s Choice award at the 2013 BDA Awards.

The choice of brickwork as a material is fundamental to the realisation of the concept. The brickwork itself embodies a sense of timelessness, tradition and calmness in keeping with the monastic way of life.

The brick was chosen for its soft and textured appearance, which makes it equally suitable for internal as well as external use. As such, the brick was used internally most notably within the chapel and the cloister.

The textured brickwork subtly changes appearance according to time of day and weather conditions. The changing shape of the shadows exudes a sense of calmness and tranquility.

Using Bond to create pattern and texture

Carmelite Monastery, Liverpool

Within the chapel interior the headers project at the higher level, in this instance to break up sound reflections to avoid standing waves setting up. The rich textured outer core of the chapel interior provides the perfect foil to the pure smooth white inner chapel.

Using Bond to create pattern and texture

Carmelite Monastery, Liverpool

The decorative potential of brickwork has been developed to give hierarchy and to express the concept. Flemish bond was chosen as the background weave that can be modified by projecting and recessing the headers to add texture and pattern. The headers are projected on the curved facade of the chapel. This creates a rich texture that together with the curved form expresses the modest chapel as the most important building in the community.

Perforated Brickwork

Paasitorni Hotel & Conference Centre, Helsinki
K2S Architects Ltd

Consisting of ivory-coloured bricks, it resembles oversized lacework.

The perforated envelope in front of the closed exterior wall acts as a screen, projecting shimmering plays of light into the rooms during the day and glowing like a lantern at night.

The white perforated bricks with their distinctive configuration were specially made. They feature oval shaped holes at each end and are fixed with bars and steel cramps.

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